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Oxford tennis honored by the city
Members of the Oxford men's and women's tennis team hold up their NCAA Div. III championship at a reception held at City Hall in Oxford.

Watch: Coaches discuss region play

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With the Oxford women’s tennis team (fall) and the men’s tennis team (summer) winning national titles back-to-back like Michael Jordan in ‘96/’97, the City of Oxford and Oxford Mayor Jerry Roseberry honored the championship teams on Wednesday evening at Oxford’s City Hall.

“I just wanna be sure they get recognition for their achievement, which is significant when you consider some of the colleges they’re competing against have 20,000 students or more. Here you’re talking about a campus with less than 1,000 students,” Roseberry said. “One of the things I found very interesting about both teams, every team member came from a different a state or a foreign country. They had never known one another before they got here to this campus and that’s what really makes Oxford College one of the great junior colleges around because we’ve got students here from 18 to 20 foreign countries and 35 to 40 states. That’s incredible. We’re very proud of them.”

“It’s a major accomplishment for the school,” Roderick Stubbs, Oxford College Athletic Director, said. “The scholar-athletes here, the rigor that they have with the academics and the athletics, they came together. Both teams came together and really dominated nationals. It just proved how hard they had worked throughout the season to get prepared for that moment. As a school we’re extremely proud of their efforts, both as students and on the court.”

The win provided interim head coach Robert Hardin, who had taken over for his wife Pernilla during her battle with cancer, with an overwhelming feeling of relief. He’d done what his wife had wanted to do which was to bring excellence to the school and develop the young athletes. Now he could refocus on her, as she is currently on the upswing and should finish her last round of chemotherapy soon.

Robert took over for Pernilla in the summer, when the married couple found out that Pernilla had cancer, just weeks before the preseason. Robert had owned a company for the past 20-plus years and he’d assisted Pernilla for the past two years while she coached the girls and boys tennis teams.

When Pernilla was diagnosed with cancer, Robert decided to let his son run the company to take over for his wife as head coach and help her through her treatments. It was a stressful time for Robert.

“She and I are practically – is bipolar the word?” Robert joked. “[We have] 180-degree philosophy differences, but we both know how to get to the same end result. I couldn’t come in and try to be her or copy her while she’s going through chemo and I’m having mood swings and dealing with it day-to-day in terms of where I was in my head. I was very emotionally and mentally compromised at first.”

After preseason, Robert felt a lot better. He’d thought he might have a stroke during that first week dealing with all the stress, but he didn’t. He braved his own struggles while his wife battled cancer.

As a coach, Robert says he felt that the team won in spite of him and not because of him, though, if you’d watch them interact like they did at the reception, you’d probably disagree. At the beginning of the season, he gathered the girls and asked a favor of them.

“I said, ‘Look girls, I’m doing this for my wife, I’m doing it for you, I’m doing it for college and you guys have to step up because I’m coming in cold. I’m coming in green even though I had the skills a long time ago. There’s a lot set against us, but I want you girls to be playing for my wife,’” Robert told his team blatantly. “So they did and they all got behind that 100 percent.”

Robert’s mood at practices began to mirror Pernilla’s. If she was having a good day, then he was upbeat with a good attitude. If she was having a bad day, then he was miserable. The stress hit a boiling point one day at practice when Hardin flipped out and yelled at his girls.

Minutes after, he composed himself and realized what he said and he thought they’d all quit on him.

“I walked around the corner just like, ‘What did I just do?’ And a couple minutes later the two team captains came around the corner, didn’t say anything, just reached out their arms and hugged me and said, ‘Coach, it’s OK. Just go on home,’” Robert called. “The girls were stellar in coming through, never losing sight. When things were bad they all still grimly held on to what we were doing for Pernilla.”

Pernilla was able to watch the team play in nationals where they won seven out of nine championship flights on their way to the title.

Though Robert and Pernilla hadn’t coached in over 20 years, they were able to lead Oxford teams to national championships. Pernilla led the men’s team to a championship in May and Robert followed suit this fall when the women won in October.

Robert Hardin won coach of the year after the women won the national title and Pernilla won the Spirit of Competition Award – an award that is usually given to the player on a team that exhibits strength, sacrifice and bringing a level of competition to the game – unanimously following a vote from the tournament coaches.